All are welcome
Progress happens in the smallest of steps and the largest of strides.
For over 105 years, the Boy Scouts of America has dedicated itself to the lives and communities of millions of Americans—both the young men and boys who participate as well as the older men who volunteer—preparing “young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law.”
While many of us may have an image of Boy Scouts merely going camping or inspiring a Wes Anderson film, the organization goes far beyond that, teaching the importance of leadership, loyalty, community service, and dedication to all those involved.
Now, after a lengthy dispute over who should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts, the organization has finally decided to address gender issues by permitting any children who identify as male to enroll. A major step forward, history will indeed look back on this decision as the right one, even if that’s not clear to everyone for the time being.
One for All and All for Some
Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America is among the largest youth organizations in the United States. Led entirely by volunteers on a local level, the program today serves over 2.3 million youths and nearly one million adults who help to run it.
A staple of many boys’ childhoods, the Boy Scouts are known for camping and pinewood derbies, the organization started as a way to teach the ideals of “patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred values,” and its formation was ardently supported by President Theodore Roosevelt who saw it as a remedy for declining American masculinity.
Yet for years, the BSA has sloppily dealt with who exactly can participate.
Scout Oath, Law, and Disorder
According to the BSA’s website, the “mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of Scout Oath and Scout Law.”
The Scout Oath reads: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”
Scout Law reads: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”
Yet membership in the BSA has long been a polemic subject. Though entitled to determine their own standards as a private voluntary organization, the BSA was attacked on numerous fronts due to their discriminatory policies based on sex, gender, and faith. In 2004, the BSA strictly prohibited allowing members to maintain leadership positions if they were “open and avowed homosexuals.”
Over the past few years, however, the organization has opened its doors to those who have previously been excluded, as well as to those who have had to keep their true identity a secret in order to continue participating. After adapting a strategy of “dialogue and sustainable progress,” the BSA rescinded its ban on homosexuals in 2013, and in 2015, the organization they lifted their ban on gay leaders.
The Boy Scouts still have policies in place which prohibit membership to atheists and agnostics.
While women were originally prohibited, the BSA starting welcoming them in various capacities as early as the 1960s. Indeed, the organization offers numerous opportunities for female volunteers and even for female participants, though not as Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts proper. The Venturing and Learning for Life programs, on the other hands, are open to both male and female participants aged 14 through 21.
On January 30, the Boy Scouts of America released a statement that many are still reeling from: The organization will now allow members to join based on their gender identity, and not based on their gender as listed at birth.
In the official release, the BSA said:
“For more than 100 years, the Boy Scouts of America, along with schools, youth sports and other youth organizations, have ultimately deferred to the information on an individual’s birth certificate to determine eligibility for our single-gender programs. However, that approach is no longer sufficient as communities and state laws are interpreting gender identity differently, and these laws vary widely from state to state.
“Starting today, we will accept and register youth in the Cub and Boy Scout programs based on the gender identity indicated on the application. Our organization’s local councils will help find units that can provide for the best interest of the child.
“The Boy Scouts of America is committed to identifying program options that will help us truly serve the whole family, and this is an area that we will continue to thoughtfully evaluate to bring the benefits of Scouting to the greatest number of youth possible – all while remaining true to our core values, outlined in the Scout Oath and Law.”
This is an important step forward, both as a practical measure as well as a gracious one that shows the BSA’s willingness to understand the pointlessness of discrimination. Though our motions may be circular in nature, humanity always moves froward. BSA has chosen to be on the right side of history.
But not everybody is happy about it. See the awful reactions from those who don’t support the BSA’s new measures of inclusivity. Keep reading!